Monday, April 21, 2008

Pennsylvania and Beyond: Let Voters Decide

As democrats in Pennsylvania set to vote on Tuesday, April 22, many believe the prolonged nomination will undermine both candidates’ electability. Obama’s association with controversial Rev. Wright and his “bitter” comments have been an unwelcome distraction, and underscored his vulnerabilities; while Clinton’s “Bosnia” gaffes and revelation of new wealth ($109 income tax statements) increased her negative ratings (from 38% to 52% according to latest polls). Democrats worried John McCain, the Republican nominee, will be unchallenged for the next several months, and this may diminish the party’s chances of reclaiming the White House. As a result, various democratic politicians, the media and some political pundits forcefully pressured Clinton to withdraw from the race. Notwithstanding these strong challenges and being outspent by Obama (3 to 1), Clinton is poised to win Pennsylvania’s primary by 5-10% (according to recent polls).

These calls for Clinton’s withdraw proved premature for several reasons as both campaigns move forward to Indiana and North Carolina after Tuesday.

1) The Democratic Party has a history of contentious primary contests and not all proved fatal. In some cases, strong primary competitions became invaluable experiences, especially for new politicians because they helped strengthen the candidates’ policy positions, debating skills, and addressed potential land mines early in the process. For example, in 1960, John Kennedy faced formidable opponents such as Herbert Humphrey, Lyndon Johnson and Adlai Stevenson. Strong competition forced Kennedy to address the Catholic question beforehand and as a result, it did not become Kennedy’s Achilles heel in the general election. Even Kennedy was short of delegates needed to secure the nomination when the party convention commenced in Los Angeles. Despite the tough nominating process, party faithfuls gravitated back to Kennedy and he went on to win the presidency.

2) Clinton and Obama’s history making candidacies to date generated enormous enthusiasm and money, expanding the democratic party’s political base such as Hispanics, “soccer moms”, and independents, key constituencies in the general election. The nail-biting contest between both candidates will continue to galvanize and attract new voters in the remaining primaries, and these voters may be crucial to winning key contests in November such senate races in Oregon and Kentucky.

3) Make every vote count. This year, many states moved their primaries early to jockey for influence and attention, and this resulted in a messy primary schedule with delegates from Michigan and Florida discounted for violating party rules. It is clear after the 2000 election, democrats want to make certain their votes count in every and all elections. Ending the contest prematurely by pressing a candidate to withdraw will not only disenfranchise voters, but also create the perception that only early voting states matter. It will only drive more states to move their primaries ahead, further exacerbating the already insane primary schedule.

After Pennsylvania, there are still nine remaining primaries with over 500 delegates at stake and millions of voters waiting to be heard. Their voices, concerns, aspirations, and votes are equally important. The calls should not be for a particular candidate to withdraw, but should be for a reformed primary process, one that allows all voters to decide, not the first 15, 30 or 40 states, and surely not the superdelegates.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

It’s Not Over Until the Fat Lady Sings

Last Tuesday’s (Feb. 19) presidential debate demonstrated the strength of this year's democratic candidates. Clinton and Obama provided thoughtful policy analyses and solutions, and clearly laid out their visions for America. Post-debate consensus from political pundits and the media was that Clinton failed to deliver a “knock-out” punch to blunt Obama’s momentum. As Clinton’s leads in the polls have shrunk to statistical insignificance against Obama in Texas and Ohio, many now believe the democratic contest is over. Notwithstanding Ted Kennedy’s attempt, in his broken Spanish, to serenade the Obama crowd with a popular Mexican song in Laredo, TX last week (sounds like someone was choking a cat), the fat lady has yet to sing.

The Clintons have successfully weathered many storms in the past largely due to their political shrewdness, patience and flexibility in retooling their strategies and approaches. When friends and foes pronounced their deaths, they always managed to comeback and win. Moving forward to the March 4 battleground states – Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and VermontClinton’s strategy is two fold. First, her conciliatory tone at the first of two debates in Austin last week was to strategically lower expectations and signal to the media and Republicans the possibility of an Obama presidency is real. This will increase media scrutiny and Republican attack on Obama. Second, in the coming week and second debate, Clinton will sharpen and zero in on her criticisms of Obama on policy differences, mainly healthcare and economy. This will force Obama into a defensive posture and off message as Clinton portrays herself as a populist and fighter.

Finally, Clinton has strong ground operations in Texas and Ohio to match Obama’s, and as New Hampshire demonstrated, they matter in close contests. If I were Ted Kennedy, I probably would not attempt to sing again, at least not yet and hopefully, not in Spanish.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Obama’s Surge; Clinton’s Last Stand

Obama had a good week, winning eight additional primaries and caucuses in a row, some by a wide margin. He now leads Clinton by 67 delegates according to Washington Post’s RealClearPolitics. Obama surpasses Clinton in fundraising and is projected to win Wisconsin and Hawaii (his birth place) this Tuesday. Once an underdog and insurgent candidate, Obama is now the indisputable front-runner. Momentum may be on his side, but the nomination contest is far from over - the delegate ratio between Obama and Clinton is less than 1% and there are 16 remaining races with more than 800 delegates at stake. Moreover, as the front-runner, Obama is fighting a three-front war – not only against Clinton, but also countering McCain, the de-facto Republican nominee, and the media – that will potentially strain his resources. Obama’s momentum will bring increasing press scrutiny on his legislative records, speeches, and policy proposals and positions. The next few weeks will test the strength of Obama’s surge.

On the other hand, Clinton’s painful losses to Obama has threatened to derail her candidacy. Gone are her campaign manager and deputy manager, fundraising prowess, and front-runner status. As political pundits and commentators begin to write her political obituary – many are reminded that the Clintons have been down this road before, and time aftertime, they managed to comeback and beat their opponents with a stronger zeal. This is certain – battle lines have been drawn and for Clinton to be viable, her last stands are in Texas and Ohio. She is currently leading in the polls and if she wins these two states on March 4, Clinton will be competitive in the remaining races, especially in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Vermont, and West Virginia. Clinton may be down, but she is not out.

One thing is for sure, whoever emerges as the democratic nominee will be a stronger and formidable candidate against McCain.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Un-democratic Democratic Superdelegates

Recent discussions focused on who superdelegates will support at the party convention in June. Given the closeness of the race and disqualifications of more than 300 delegates from Michigan and Florida, it is unlikely that either Clinton or Obama will have the necessary 2025 delegates needed to win the nomination. Superdelegates make up about 20% or 800 of the total delegate counts, and are seen as the deciding factor in the democratic race.

It is perplexing and ironic that the eventual democratic nominee may be selected by a group of party insiders and some non-elected officials. The intent of proportionality of delegates (as opposed to winner takes all) was based on the principle of fairness and attempt to truly reflect the desire of voters in each congressional district. Superdelegates were meant to allow party leaders/insiders to play a key role in the nomination process – to perhaps influence candidates on specific policy issues or positions, but certainly not as kingmakers.

The increasingly diverse democratic constituency vis-à-vis the shrinking Republican Party tent will likely attract and excite certain demographic groups, and they will gravitate toward a particular candidate. The Clinton-Obama divide will not be the last, but the beginning struggle for party influence between Latinos and African Americans, elites/educated and working class, Baby Boomers, Gen X and Y, females and males, etc. The existence of superdelegates and the role they play in close contests will no doubt be viewed suspiciously by the losing candidate and their supporters. The Democratic Party should revamp the nomination process perhaps, first by jettisoning the superdelegates, and simply awarding the nomination to the candidate with the most votes. But again, politics is never simple.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Virginia's Clinton Nostalgia

The conventional thinking is that Obama will likely sweep DC, MD, VA next Tuesday when the democratic primary elections take place here in the Beltway states because of the large African American population, young and affluent democratic voters. Virginia again may prove to be a great upset since Jim Webb displaced George Allen in the 2006 senate race for several reasons.

First, the Old Dominion State’s African American population remains stagnant ( while other minority groups such Hispanics and Asians have grown exponentially since the last census was taken back in 2000. Hispanics and Asians formed a powerful coalition in delivering crucial big states of California, New York and New Jersey to Clinton on Super Tuesday. They have been reliable voting blocs and if this trend continues, they may come through again in Virginia for Clinton.

Second, the most dramatic shift in demographics is in Northern Virginia (NoVA). Recent governor and senate races were won largely in this area. Arlington and Fairfax, the two largest counties in NoVA, are rich in young and upper-class professionals, general profiles of Obama supporters. However, considerable number of these professionals are either civilian government workers, military employees, or have some connections to government work. They have seen presidents come and go, and understand the intricacies and dynamics of Washington bureaucracies and politics, thus may not easily be dazzled by Obama’s message of hope and change.

Finally, the Clinton nostalgia still exists. Many democrats who came to Washington with Bill Clinton in the early 1990s have established homes and families in Virginia. They attribute much of NoVA economic success to the Clinton years of fiscal responsibility and growth. Virginia democrats continue to have great admiration for the Clintons.

Clinton won Virginia in the 1992 and 1996 primaries, and Clinton may win again in 2008.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Emergence of a new Clinton Coalition

The results of Super Tuesday primaries left the democratic race where it started – a near even split of delegates for Obama and Clinton. As expected, Obama received strong support from African American, male and young (18-30) voters while Clinton solidified her standings with women, Hispanic and older (45 and above) voters.

Most interestingly, Super Tuesday witnessed the emergence of the Asian American voting bloc. While receiving little attention, Asian Americans were monumental in delivering the all important, delegate rich state – California – to Clinton. The U.S. Census Bureau shows Asian Americans make up about 14% of the population, the second largest minority group in California. Exit polls showed Clinton was able to blunt Obama’s African American support with strong Hispanic showings. However, it was the overwhelming Asian American votes Clinton carried by 3 to 1, that propelled her to a 52% victory.

Moving forward, Asian Americans and Hispanics will be a formidable firewall and perhaps a winning coalition that will give Clinton an edge in crucial states like Virginia, Washington, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Hawaii, and Texas. In addition to potentially having the first African American or woman president, we may have the first "Hispanic Asian" president in November.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Wedge Issue in 2008

Gay men and lesbians who survived the 2004 presidential election against republicans who successfully used same-sex marriage as a wedge issue in 11 states are relieved not having to fight this battle again. If polls are correct, this will be a democratic year and the gay community seems satisfied with either Clinton or Obama as president. In stark contrast to the republican race, this year will be a watershed year for the Democratic Party with potentially the first woman or African American party nominee/president, and the first gay-sponsored debate back in August, among others. Gays are an important voting bloc in states like New York, comprising between 5-13% of democratic voters. As the race tightens, Clinton and Obama are aggressively courting gay voters.

It is easy to forget past struggles when tides are turning in the gay community’s favor such as more and more states are granting civil unions, in one state particular, Massachusetts permits same-sex marriage, and recent passage of federal anti-discrimination laws to include sexual-orientation. While polls showing greater public tolerance and gay issues becoming non-issues, another group is increasingly being marginalized. This year’s wedge issue will be immigration, and intrusive anti-immigration laws at the state and local level have torn families apart, and driven a myriad of Hispanics from their communities. Gays (and other minorities) must wage in the debate and cannot be complacent because of recent successes. At minimum, we are bound by one belief - the fundamental principle of human rights and dignity applies to all human beings regardless of citizenship status.

As pastor Martin Niem√∂ller famously said during the Holocaust, “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.” The time to speak up is now.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The (Mis)Education of John Edwards

John Edward’s consecutive primary losses ended his five year bid for president. His “two America” campaign theme and populist approach did not resonate well with democratic voters. After seven years of gross mismanagement and disastrous neo-con policies, democrats hunger for change, competency and unity. While Obama represents freshness and change, Clinton’s experience and policy prowess reassures weary working class voters. Democrats seemed to move beyond the "have and have-not" argument in this election. Pressing challenges such as the Iraq war, home foreclosures, rising healthcare and educational costs, and economic downturn unite people. When facing a real or potential crisis, there is only one America.

Edwards’ campaign should have focused on unity – the need to bridge the gaps between the rich and poor, the old and young, the educated and less educated, women and men, straights and gays, and blacks, whites and browns. Democrats probably would have responded positively given the divisive racial and gender rhetoric in the early primaries. Edwards’ two America message was equally divisive and thus, failed to be a credible alternative to Obama and Clinton. Edwards, 53, is a young and promising leader. Perhaps he should return to his roots in NC, run for governor, and return in 2012 or 2016.

The Curse of "Momentum"

Lately, the word momentum has been used and repeated by political pundits, commentators and bloggers so often that you think it is some kind of magical force. On the contrary, momentum defied all conventional wisdom in this election cycle and is proving to be a curse.

After winning the Iowa caucuses, Obama was riding high on the wave of momentum going into New Hampshire with polls showing double digit leads. He lost by 3%. With two consecutive primary wins (three if you count MI), the Clinton campaign thought momentum would bring her to a close second place in South Carolina despite trailing in the polls. Obama defeated Clinton as expected, far from close, but by a shocking 28%. Coupled with the Kennedy endorsements, mainstream media claimed momentum was blowing Obama’s way. However, in the renegade Florida primary Tuesday night, momentum again stubbornly failed to come through. Clinton beat Obama by 17% and won almost every demographic group in the exit polls. (Think what you may of Florida’s primary, it is hard to discount the 1.5 million Democratic voters.)

Given its track record, I am not sure I want momentum on my side. Perhaps it is trying to prove a point – no candidate is entitled or has exclusive rights to it. To the candidates, may momentum, umm..not be with you.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Obama's Dilemma, Clinton's End-Game

Obama's landslide victory over Clinton and Edwards in the SC primary this past Saturday demonstrated the strength of his organization, grassroots support, and campaign message. He won by double digits riding on the wave of African American support (a whopping 80%) but at the same time, failed to broaden his appeal among White voters. This presents a dilemma for the Obama campaign as they look forward to Super Tuesday on Feb. 5 when the majority of the 22 states have closed primaries and increased White, Hispanic and Asian American voters. Should his campaign focus on states with strong African American presence such as GA, AL, and MO, or divert resources to more expensive, but delegate rich states such as CA, NY, NJ, and AZ where Clinton is leading by double digits? Latest polls show Obama only leading Clinton in GA but competitive in MO, AL and TN.

Clinton, on the other hand, has aggressively campaigned in Super Tuesday states since winning the Nevada caucuses. By down-playing SC, Clinton risks permanently damaging relations with a substantial bloc of core democratic constituencies that make up about 15% of general election voters she desperately needs to win in November. The Clinton campaign probably calculated that winning White, Hispanic, elderly, and female voters may be enough to eke out and win the nomination, and ask for redemption by selecting Obama or someone with an indisputable civil rights record for the #2 spot at the convention. Both campaigns face tough choices ahead. One thing is certain, the only campaign without a choice is Edwards'. Having lost four crucial primaries, Edward's game may not reach Super Tuesday.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Ideal Running Mate

The eventual Democratic nominee will be battered from the hard-fought, divisive and racially-charged primaries. Clinton or Obama will most likely search for a low key figure as a running mate to unite the party. Scanning the list of current democratic governors, the most attractive candidate is Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) for several reasons.

1. Executive Experience: Richardson's solid resume, with over two decades of government experience (legislator, cabinet secretary and governor), provides the necessary gravitas for both candidates, especially Obama. No presidential candidates have successfully won the White House without first occupying the governor's mansion since JFK. More importantly, for Clinton, Richardson presents a softer side of the Democratic ticket, diverting attention away from her bare-knuckled primary campaign tactics.

2. Demography: Richardson, the popular governor of New Mexico, will strongly position the Democrats to sweep the four southwest states' 25 electoral votes - New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Nevada combined. With the southwest wins, the Democrats can afford to lose Ohio or Florida and still win the White House. Also, Richardson will motivate Hispanics to vote in droves for Democratic candidates across the country and potentially solidify their alliance with Democratic party.

3. Uniting the Base: Clinton and Obama's primary campaigns created serious tensions in the party's base, primarily along the lines of race and gender. For Clinton, Richardson will increase her share of men and African American votes. For Obama, Richardson will deliver the crucial Hispanic votes. These are core constituencies the party must hold on to win in November.

Finally, Richardson, facing term limits this year, will not jeopardize the party's position if picked to be on the Democratic ticket. The majority of democratic governors will not be up for reelection until 2011, and those who are do not face term limits. On that basis and the reasons mentioned above, I believe Richardson is the best VP candidate for the Democratic party.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Where is the Asian American Voice?

Recent highlights of demographics in early presidential primary states seem to ignore the Asian Pacific American (APA) votes. Discussions in mainstream media focus on the importance of African American, Hispanic, women, and Catholic votes, and make no mention of Asian Americans. Asian Americans often appeared to be an afterthought when raised by leading presidential candidates.

Given the political polarization, one would think APAs would be kingmakers in the 2008 election. For example, noted that APAs constituted 6.1% of the electorate in Nevada, a swing state that Bush won by 2.5% in 2004. In 2006, Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) narrowly beat Sen. George Allen by some 7,000 votes largely because he solidly carried the 160,000 potential APA votes in Virginia. Asian Americans make up about 4-6% of the population and polls after polls show both parties running neck in neck with only a few percentage separating them. Why is the APA voting bloc still being ignored? How can we raise our profile as a community so that APA votes matter and are courted by the candidates?

First comes the why and I think there are several factors. 1) Perception: APAs are perceived as a fractured community with no unifying voice to forcefully deliver their message. 2) Political Apathy: Although APAs make up 4-6% of the population, the number of actual registered voters are minuscule, making them a less potent force in swing states. 3) Non-monolithic Voters: 2004 presidential exit polls showed APA votes were almost evenly split in key states between Bush and Kerry, making them an undependable voting bloc by either party.

The 2008 election cycle offers the APA community the opportunity to change the dynamics. It is inherent in the Asian culture to stay neutral to promote harmony and not take risks, fearful of betting on the losing party. We cannot afford to be timid anymore. This is the time when APAs must take a political stand publically and fight for candidates and party that share their issues, values and concerns. Second, APAs must pull their resources together and demonstrate that they can deliver for their candidates and party. Finally, first generation and older APAs who are citizens must exercise their rights and vote to ensure the voice of future APA generations is heard.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Al Gore for Equality

I wish you were running for President this year.

Hillary's Momentum

There is no doubt Hillary Clinton has the momentum and her march towards the Democratic nomination is looking more and more palpable, notwithstanding earlier setbacks in Iowa and comments about MLK. Hard to believe that after the disastrous Iowa results, she came back to win New Hampshire and Nevada, and currently leading by double digits in the polls ( in delegate rich states (CA, NY, NJ, and FL) that will vote on Feb. 5, Super Tuesday.

I thought the Clinton camp brilliantly turned the race comment to their advantage when Obama's supporters made a big deal about it, a strategic error I think will cost Obama the nomination. Obama might have gained the African American votes but at what cost? After the NH and NV primaries, Obama is looking more and more like a one race, one hit candidate, losing the Hispanics, Whites and women votes. While Clinton is pursuing a national campaign, Obama is stuck in South Carolina fighting the other Clinton, and defending his Reagan comments. As the electorate is starting to focus on the presidential race, Obama is forced to answer the "where's the beef" questions on the economy, national security, mortgage crisis, health care, etc. Hope and change may sound nice and warm, but who's going to pay my bills when I'm laid off, and my mutual funds/stocks worth only pennies?